Accounts system fury

October 27, 2000

Staff are demanding an independent inquiry into the "scandalous" introduction of a flawed accounting system at Cambridge University.

The THES reported that Capsa, the new online accounting system, was so flawed that staff feared the university could grind to a halt ("Cambridge in chaos as Capsa fails to add up", THES, September 15). The university has admitted to devastating problems and has introduced emergency measures. But because the old system was unacceptable to external auditors, it says there can be no turning back.

Now the recriminations have begun.

The annual report of the board of scrutiny, published earlier this month, says: "The project... has been a matter of concern to us for more than two years. In May 1998 we wrote that 'the slow pace of progress to date arises almost certainly from an initial underestimate of the complexity of the project and the number of staff required to support it, compounded by the worrying failure to consult the end-users from the outset'." This led to further consultation and plans for "an entirely new accounting system". The board said: "In May 1999 the (governing) council approved the installation of a system supplied by Oracle at a cost of Pounds 4.7 million. A year later the cost has risen to Pounds 8 million." Staff have said "many millions" more could be spent as problems are tackled.

Staff petitioned for an emergency Senate House discussion, in which they vented their anger last week. Law professor John Spencer said the situation was a "scandal" and there should be an independent inquiry. The implementation "contained every mistake it was possible to make". "Who is responsible for this? And when will he or she or they be sued or sacked?" he asked.

James Matheson, a computer expert who has sat on Capsa committees, said an 11th-hour technical change was "almost unbelievable". Douglas DeLacey, who also sat on a Capsa group, said the problems had all been predicted, but those who raised questions and protests had been "put to silence" and vilified.

University registrary Timothy Mead apologised for the "distress and inconvenience" caused by "continuing significant difficulties". He said there would be an audit committee review and he "hoped" it would be published.

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